August 2010 Edition - Radish Magazine

August 2010 Edition - Radish Magazine


Physician, heal thyself

An Iowa City doctor grows her own good health

By Mary Crooks

When Dr. Terry Wahls of Iowa City was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10

years ago, her doctors told her that functions lost from the disease would

not return. A few years after learning she had MS, she was using canes to walk and

often was confined to a wheelchair.

Wahls, an academic general internal medicine physician at a teaching hospital,

looked for alternative treatments but found no clinical trials to participate in

that might offer options for a better outcome. She began to study basic science literature

about MS and formulate ideas about why disability occurs. Wahls designed

a new treatment for her disease based on what she learned. She became convinced

that mitochondrial (nerve ending) failure drives the progression of MS and many

other health problems such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and

many psychiatric disorders. Medications helped to control symptoms but rarely

restore normal functioning.

Based on her personal studies, Wahls made lifestyle changes that paid off

in amazing ways. She has exchanged her wheelchair for a bicycle and now often

Dr. Terry Wahls next to an aronia bush she cultivates in her backyard. (Submitted)


rides it five miles from home to work at the VA Hospital and University of Iowa

Hospital. She is active in ways that leave people shaking their heads in disbelief

and admiration.

Wahls attributes her improved health to her changed diet, combined with

electrical stimulation of her muscles. She shares what she has learned with others

every chance she gets. “I now understand the profound connection between food

and health,” Wahls says. “Healing occurs when we eat foods that our mitochondria

and body need.”

“Daily servings of green leafy vegetables are a must,” Wahls shares. So are

brightly colored vegetables and fruits. She also recommends a reliable source of

omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as grass-fed meat, cold-water fish, and

flax seed.

When people ask about the cost of eating her recommended diet, she says

many of the foods can be grown for little or no cost in a small garden or in porch

containers. A visit to her yard confirms that she is doing that herself.

Wahls grows some commonly raised foods like leafy greens, strawberries, and

apples. She has also added lesser-known fruits and vegetables to her yard, such as

aronia berries, hardy kiwi, and sorrel, which are all perennial plants that come back

year after year. She reports that many flowers are edible and make delicious teas and

salad ingredients that can add to the quality of your diet. A pile of logs in her yard

has been inoculated with mushrooms, another tasty and nutrition-enhancing food.

‘I now understand the profound

connection between food and health.’

“Growing kale, spinach, carrots, strawberries, garlic, and so many of the other

foods that Dr. Wahls recommends is easy in our Iowa climate” says Fred Meyer,

director of Backyard Abundance. “I was delighted when I visited Terry’s yard and

saw the wide variety of foods she is growing.”

As part of its mission to teach ecological skills, Backyard Abundance has been

offering yard tours since its inception in 2006. “Anyone who attends these events

is in for a tasty surprise,” Meyer says. “We share delicious foods that you can grow

right outside your door.”

Backyard Abundance will be sponsoring an education session at 1 p.m. on

Aug. 21 that will feature a presentation by Wahls and Meyer followed by a tour of

Wahls’ backyard. Cost for the event is $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Those

who are interested in attending the yard tour but not the presentation will have the

opportunity to do so free of charge from 3 to 5 p.m.

For more information, visit

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